Making a Living



Archives New Zealand holds a variety of government records relating to private employment, work, and financial status.

Many of these originated in the courts, in government activity, or in the government requirement for those in various occupations to be registered.

The records

Most records are incomplete and cover limited time periods, but some are quite comprehensive.

Court files for Bankruptcy are extensive. Some Company records are full files, but often only card index entries exist.

The four offices of Archives New Zealand hold many records of Liquor Licensing from the Courts, and of Mining (gold & sometimes coal), from Wardens’ Courts.

Marine records – Certificates of Competency and other Seafarer records – are fairly comprehensive up to the 1990s.

Licence Registers cover various occupations – often for brief periods and limited place:

Patent, Design, Trade mark and Copyright records are extensive, though many applications were never completed, not all files exist, and many specifications /plans were returned to the applicant.

We also hold the registration records of many Friendly Societies and Trade Unions, as well as industrial agreements.

Milk Vendor, Wainuiomata. [AAQT 6359 B2136]

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Archives New Zealand holds very few records of Apprentices privately employed and only limited records of apprentices in government departments (see Government Employment).

Enquiries should be directed to the TEC (Tertiary Education Commission) which holds Apprenticeship records.

Most of our records are general in nature, relating to policy or the application of parliamentary acts. Very few even mention individual apprentices; there are no personal files for apprentices or records of qualifications gained.

Auckland High Court (AK)

Apprentices Register 1924-1953 [BBAE 5642/1a]

Department of Labour − Training

Apprentices Act – Local Committees overall dates 1928-1985 [ABVT 947 W3580/277-284 17/4/1–318]

Some lists of those who qualified, mostly regional. Some individual applications for credits of time.

Minute Books: NZ Apprenticeship Committees

50 volumes, alphabetical by industry, Aircraft Engineering to Timber, overall dates 1947-1988 [ABVT 7254 W3581/1-8]

Minute Books include lists of apprentices who had their time requirement reduced, but the volumes are unindexed and do not focus on individuals.

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Bankruptcy & Insolvency

Courts created Bankruptcy Registers and two types of Bankruptcy files. A Court file was begun when a petition for bankruptcy was filed. Files were also created by the Official Assignee in Bankruptcy, in whom all bankrupts’ property was vested.

Access to records may be restricted.

Many files can be found by searching the name of the person or company on Archway, but for most a file number needs to be found through an Index or Register. Some files are not listed for restriction reasons.

Auckland High Court etc (AK)

Christchurch High Court etc (CH)

Dunedin High Court etc (DN)

Dunedin bankruptcy and Insolvency files 1867-2001 are listed by name of person or company on Archway [DAAC, DAIL, DAAD]

Gisborne High Court (AK)

Grahamstown (Thames) Wardens Court (AK)

Bankruptcy Files 1870-1875 [BACL 14471/1a]

Greymouth High Court (CH)

Hamilton High Court, etc (AK)

Hawera Magistrates Court

Hokitika Supreme Court (CH)

Invercargill High Court, etc (DN)

Masterton District Court

Pahiatua Bankruptcy Asset & Claims Register 1926-1947 [AAOF 22322 W5447/609]

Napier Supreme Court, etc

New Plymouth High Court

Oamaru District Court (DN)

Palmerston North High Court

Rotorua High Court (AK)

Thames Wardens Court (AK)

Note Book of Bankruptcy Cases 1896-1934 [BACL 14415/1a]

Timaru District Court (CH)

Whanganui District Court

Wellington High Court, etc

Bankruptcy files up to 1947 and Insolvency files from 1953 are listed by name or company on Archway.

Whangarei High Court, etc (AK)

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The Companies Office registers corporate entities, particularly companies. Its Registers relate to companies, incorporated societies, building societies, charitable trusts, etc. The Companies Office delivers nearly all its services electronically online.

The online Companies Register can be searched for current and historical company information.

Companies Office Holdings

Some Companies Office records are now at Archives New Zealand, however many have been destroyed. Staff can access a destroyed files spreadsheet to confirm this. Where no file exists, all that may remain is a Register entry or Index card.

Company Files that have survived are listed by the name of the company on Archway.

Company Registers may be of use if no file exists:

Company Card Indexes

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Friendly Societies

Friendly societies provided financial help when a family’s breadwinner suffered sickness, accident or death. The first lodge was formed by new immigrants in 1842. By 1901 friendly societies had 41,236 members – 15% of all adult males – and by 1938 there were 113,709 members in various societies.

Due to their role in providing welfare, the government established a Registrar of Friendly Societies in 1867. Office bearers of individual Friendly Societies were required by law to submit annual returns to the Registrar of Friendly Societies and Credit Unions.

The Companies Office took over the responsibility of managing friendly societies in 1997 and maintain an online register.

Friendly Society Records

Returns of the various Friendly Societies can be found with a search of their name on Archway.

Credit Unions

A Credit Union is a member owned cooperative financial organisation with members sharing a common bond of either residence in a clearly defined geographical area, or employment by a particular employer, or occupation, of other qualifying association.

Credit Union records can be found with a search of their name on Archway.

Credit Union registration records 1955-2004 [24181]

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License Registers

At various times the Government required machines or people in various occupations to be licensed or registered. Courts were usually responsible for such processes and held the license records.

Finding Licence Records

Licence records are organised by region and type of licence. Records exist for:

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Liquor Licensing

Licensing Committee & District Records - Liquor Licenses - Publicans

A Licensing Ordinance of 1842 first controlled the sale of liquor. Provincial governments issued various licences from 1853-1875, with liquor licences increasingly tied to the provision of accommodation.

Early records may be found in the New Zealand or Provincial Gazettes, in inwards correspondence of the Colonial Secretary [8333] and in Provincial records, especially Wellington [16195].

1873 legislation created Licensing Districts similar to local body areas and established Licensing Courts, which included the Resident Magistrate and other appointed members. People applied to the court for a licence and paid a fee with the application.

Licence details were published in newspapers, and may also be found in Magistrates Court records before 1881.

The Licensing Act 1881, which incorporated a number of previous acts, set up Licensing Committees within specific electoral areas (Licensing Districts) to grant, renew or revoke sale of liquor licences. Licensing Committees were based in Magistrates Courts.

Finding Liquor Licence Records

Liquor licence records are organised by region. They are often Court Registers or Record Books of applications, and can be found with an appropriate keyword search on Archway.

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Certiciates of Competency

Ships’ officers and engineers had to gain Certificates of competency from the Marine Department, or later the Transport Department.

Archives New Zealand holds many duplicate certificates, and Index cards to those records, which give some biographical data, such as birth date and place, address at time of examination, as well as date and place of examination and certificate.

There are many different categories of shipping officer certificate. The main divisions are between:

Other less common categories include:

Index − Masters & Mates 1867-1960s

Access to the Certificate Books, which hold copies of the originals, is provided by an alphabetical card index. This Index is unrestricted and each card contains the same information as the copies in the certificate books.

The five Index boxes contain surnames beginning:

Certificate Books − Masters & Mates

Access to the bound Certificate Books is open, but copying from the books is restricted until 65 years after the date of the Certificate.

To locate a Certificate Book, it is necessary to find the relevant Box Number and Book Number in Archway.

Certificates of Competency

Application Forms − Masters & Mates

Name searches on Archway will find specific files.

Examinations – Record of examinations at all Ports

Examinations – Sight Tests

Registers of Examinations of Sight 1925-1968 [ADOE 16631 M28W2686/27]


Various Seafarers’ Records of Service were created between 1941-1995, and these came to Archives New Zealand from the Maritime Safety Authority. The records are organised by occupation and then alphabetically by surname. They list the seafarers' name and date of birth, the ships upon which they had served and the dates of service. There is a gap in the records for 1955-1962. [ABPL 7460 W4963]

The records cover:

Merchant Navy

The Merchant Navy War Medal Index records the issue of war medals, and is in two alphabetical sequences, one for World War I and a second for World War II.

Merchant Navy War Medal Index Cards

Shipping Logs, Lists & Papers

Log Books, Articles of Agreement and Crew Lists c1960s-c1980s [ADOE 16633]

This series includes ships’ logs, crew lists, and other papers for coastal shipping and inter-island ferries c1960s-c1980s. Many of the vessels were privately owned. Some ships are individually listed on Archway.

Licensed Fishing Boats 1937-1964 [ADOE 16627]

Individual listings, mostly under person or company name, are found on Archway. Some of the records are Department of Industries and Commerce files.


Register of Wrecks 1795-1988 [ABPL 7464 W5011/1-4]

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Dental - Dental Schools

The Wellington office holds records from Dental Schools in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch, and from the Wellington Polytechnic School of Nursing (Dental Therapy Programme) [ABKI].

Records include:

Auckland Dental School

Wellington Dental School

Christchurch Dental School

Photograph Albums Christchurch 1960, training, etc [ABKI 600/1/1-2]

Graduation Photographs Christchurch 1965-1980 [ABKI 594/1-3]

Doctors/Medical Practitioners

The Medical Council registers Doctors and holds its own records. Other records include:

Department of Health

Various Departmental files relate to doctors, but few have personal details. Most are restricted access. [ADBZ 16163]

Medical Registration / Registers

Medical Registration 1908-1954. Applications for registration; complaints regarding deregistration (listed by surname on Archway) [ADBZ 16163]

Medical Practitioners, Register, 1953-1956 [AAFB 632 W3464/66/ 170/4]

Napier Supreme Court

New Zealand Medical Registers 1977-1979 [AAOW W3846/1473]

Waikato Hospital

Medical Registers 1941-1971 [ZABW 14614 A1462/1a-11a] (AK)


Midwife registration began in 1905. For most of the twentieth century midwives were registered nurses with a specialist qualification. Earlier midwife records were created by the Nurses and Midwives Registration Board under the Department of Health. Later records come from the Nursing Council.


Registers and Nursing Registration Cards are very useful to family historians as most Health Department files relate to nursing administration and training. 

National records are outlined below, but many Nursing Registers (Staff, Application, Attendance) from specific hospitals and schools of nursing are held in our regional offices. Listings of these can be found on Archway.

The early records were created by the Nurses and Midwives Registration Board. Most records come from the Nursing Council of New Zealand [ABYO] and have access restrictions for privacy reasons. People can access their own information with proof of ID.

Nursing Registration Cards 1914-1989

The cards provide a record of certification of all nurses and midwives registered to practise in New Zealand.

Nursing Registers (national) 1902-1981

Some Register books include more than one type of nurse. Registration covers the following:

School of Advanced Nursing Studies

A small collection of Jubilee records 1928-1978, created by Mrs Stair, secretary of SANS. There are some lists of students by year of commencing studies and a number of individual letters. [ABKY W4033/1]

Wellington Nursing Registers 1932-1957

Nursing Staff Registers [ABRR 6888/1-2]

Alphabetical by initial letter, most entries commenced late 1940s, resigned 1950s.


Archives New Zealand holds few records relating to opticians and optometrists. Some applications for registration for 1928-1968 can be found by searching the person’s name on Archway.

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Archives New Zealand holds extensive records of miners and mining, mostly for gold, but some for coal. The records are held regionally and most are in our Auckland (Thames gold), Christchurch (West Coast gold) and Dunedin (Otago gold) Offices.

Most records come from Wardens’ Courts and their listings can be found on Archway. The main records are Indexes and Registers, and often include miners’ names, putting them in a particular place and context.

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The Depression of the 1930s led to various government measures to allow rural mortgagors to seek relief from mortgage obligations.

Records can be found on Archway in the archives of the various Courts (Court of Review or Adjustment Commission), or under key words such as Mortgage or Mortgagor. Some courts also hold records of Mortgagee Sales, not just during the Depression of the 1930s.

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Patents, Design, Trade Mark & Copyright


A Patent specification number is needed to find a Patent file. The Patent specification number can be found in various indexes and Registers of Patents.


There are a number of Indexes for Patent applications and Patents. New Zealand Gazette supplements contain lists of Patents (alphabetical by patentee surname) from 1891-1911; for 1902-1911 Patents are listed in categories. The Wellington Office holds a paper copy of the Gazette index for 1891-1903.

In 1905 the NZ Patent Office began its own Indexes, and from 1911 the NZ Patent Office Indexes (below) are the only indexes to patents in New Zealand.

Applicant and Inventors Card Indexes

A three-part index (1903-1953, 1954-1994, 1994-1997) that provides Patent file numbers [ABPJ 22716 W5650/1386-1905]


Patent Registers give a number, name of the patentee, title of the invention, and usually date of provisional and complete acceptance and fees, ultimate fate of Patent, whether void, lapsed, abandoned or transferred.


Most Patent files are held, though there are gaps. Those up to 1929 are complete but later files were culled six years after the patent lapsed.

Patent files may give brief details of the inventors and sometimes more extensive information about the invention. Plans and detailed specifications are not usually included – they were returned to the Patentee or are held separately (see ‘Original drawings’ section).

Patent Specification Files 1861-2004

Most of the patent files are listed at the Box level by Patent specification number. So you will need to do an Advanced Search on Archway using a wildcard search (using * to search for a range of numbers). For example, Patent Number 25500 is in Box 151, which is listed as 25396 – 25645. [ABPJ 7396]

Original Drawings for Patent Specifications


Design registration protects the external appearance of a manufactured article, especially novel or original design features that would appeal to the customer.

Design Application Registers give the volume & page number of specific entries in Registers of Design (up to 1954), in rough chronological rather than number order. From 1954 Register entries are by registration number.  Only approved applications were recorded in the Design Registers. These give brief application and applicant information. Diagrams or photographs might be attached for those registered before 1954.


Files – Design Certificates

c1936-1993 (3840-26061 with gaps. Individually listed on Archway) [ABPJ 7554 W4989/1-74]



Under the Trade-Marks Act 1866, the Colonial Secretary administered trade marks 1868-1890. Applications to register trade marks were inwards correspondence, and the annual single number formed the basis of the trade mark file number. The Patents, Designs and Trade-marks Act 1883 moved trade mark administration to the Patent Office.

Registers of Trade Marks are held in our Wellington Office, and many were also published in the New Zealand Gazette. Richard Wolfe’s Well Made New Zealand: A century of trademarks illustrates the variety of New Zealand trade marks.



The original Registers contain pasted-in copies of the trade mark forms. These give brief information about the application and the applicant.

Registers of Trade Marks 1873-1945 [ABPJ 7416 W5046/1-53]

From c1945 onwards trade mark registers were organ-ised in binders and arranged by trade mark application number. These binders also covered trademarks retrospectively back to 1868.

Registers of Trade Marks 1868-c1999 (binders) [ABPJ 7416 W5650/167-684,950,1034,1168-1170]


Trade mark files (1868-2006) include papers dealing with the examination and registration of individual trade marks. They are listed by name and trade mark on Archway. [ABPJ 7415/1-16]


In New Zealand copyright protects original literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works, sound recordings, films, communication works and the typographical arrangement of published editions.



Copyright Subject Files 1886-1963 [AEGA 18982 PC4/1-260]           

The files in PC4 range from the weird and wacky to the innovative and historic. Many examples of original artworks, designs, publications, sheet music, and objects were sent in with the application and can be found in the files. Most are not listed at the item level. The Wellington Reading Room holds a ring binger Index that includes file number, year, name of applicant and type of work.

Miscellaneous Copyright Records 1886-1963 [AEGA 18992 PC13/1-13]

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Trade Unions

Archives New Zealand holds many union-related records but not the records created by unions themselves. Our holdings cover their interaction with the state, such as rules, annual returns, registration cards, arbitration records, awards and agreements, industrial disputes, and objections to compulsory unionism. We also hold the Trade Union Education Authority records [W3597]. For police files of industrial disputes see Law & the Courts.

Most union records can be found with a search of their name on Archway.

Awards, Agreements & Arbitration

Compulsory Unionism

Unionism was compulsory in New Zealand from 1935-1991. Labour Department files on conscientious objectors to compulsory unionism can be found by a search of the person’s name on Archway.

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Workers' Compensation

1940 Regulations established a separate court known as the Compensation Court to hear workers’ compensation cases. Compensation Court records are held regionally alongside other Court records (see Gavel & Quill).

In 1972 the Accident Compensation Commission [AADP] (now Corporation – ACC) was formed and workers’ compensation as it previously existed was replaced.

Workers Compensation Board

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